Onychorrhexis is a condition that causes vertical ridges to form on the fingernails. Instead of a relatively smooth fingernail, a person with onychorrexis will have grooves or ridges in their nails.

Some people may have this condition on only one nail while others will have it on all nails, and it isn’t usually cause for concern.

However, changes to the fingernails can sometimes suggest an underlying medical condition or nutritional deficiencies. Treatments are available to help strengthen the nails and improve their overall appearance.

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People who have onychorrhexis develop grooves and ridges that run the length of their nails.

Onychorrexis can be a natural variation to the nail’s appearance, and sometimes doctors can’t identify a cause. How you treat your nails, what you eat, and underlying medical conditions can all potentially contribute.

Some of the potential onychorrexis causes include:

  • amyloidosis, a condition that causes excess levels of the amyloid protein to build up in the body
  • anemia
  • eating disorders, such as bulimia
  • eczema
  • excessively picking or biting at the nails, which weakens them
  • exposure to chemicals and excess moisture, such as those in the occupations of hairdresser or housekeeper
  • frequent use of nail polish remover, which can thin the nail
  • hypothyroidism
  • lichen planus, an inflammatory skin disorder
  • psoriasis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • trauma to the nail or nails

Doctors have also linked these nail ridges with nutritional deficiencies. Examples include deficiencies of folic acid, iron, or proteins. The body needs these nutritional components to produce healthy, strong nails.

Advancing age also causes onychorrexis. The nails tend to become thinner and more brittle as you age, which can make lines in the nails more pronounced.

While the lines in some people’s nails are easier to see, almost all people have some ridging to the nails. This is where the nails cells are pushed up from the nail matrix to form the fingernails. However, if your nails are thinner or lack the components to make strong nails, you may observe onychorrexis.

The main symptom of onychorrexis is easily visible, up-and-down (longitudinal) lines on the fingernails. While nails aren’t perfectly smooth by nature, these lines will feel bumpy when you rub your finger over the nail.

Sometimes, this ridging may be on only one finger. Or, you may have it on all fingers. If you’ve had an injury to a specific fingernail, such as crushing or bending back the nail, you’re more likely to have onychorrexis on that fingernail.

Sometimes, this ridging is accompanied by brittle nails that may split slightly at the ends. Doctors call this onychoschisis. Nails with onychorrexis are often thinner and more subject to breakage than those who don’t have the pronounced ridges.

Because onychorrexis is usually either a side effect of aging or something else that is relatively common, it doesn’t always require treatment. However, if you find your nails are more brittle and prone to breaking, there are some steps that can help. Also, if your onychorrexis is the result of an underlying medical condition, working to address and correct that condition can help.

Medical treatments

Medical treatments for onychorrhexis usually involve treating the underlying causes. For example, if you have an inflammatory disorder, such as psoriasis or eczema, a doctor may recommend injecting, taking, or applying topical corticosteroids to reduce the underlying inflammation. Doctors can even inject steroids directly into the nails to improve the nail’s appearance.

Doctors may also prescribe treatments that are “painted” or brushed on the nails protect them and prevent further damage. Examples of these prescription medications include:

  • polyureathaine
  • 16 percent Nuvail
  • hydrosoluble nail lacquer (Genadur)

Home remedies

Protect and care for your nails at home with the following at-home options:

  • Apply moisturizing products to the hand and nails. Examples include vitamin E oil, petroleum jelly, or olive oil. Some people place soft cotton gloves over their hands after applying a moisturizer to allow it to sink in.
  • Avoid soaking or exposing your fingernails to water or cleaning chemicals for an excessive time period. This can weaken your nails.
  • Avoid nail polishes that don’t contain vitamins and minerals to nourish the nails. You may also wish to “rest” the nails by not using polishes and harsh nail polish removers for some time to allow the nails to strengthen and grow.
  • Drink plenty of water each day, enough that your urine is usually light yellow in color. Nails typically have about 18 percent water content, and when you’re dehydrated, they’re subject to becoming more brittle. Doctors link poor food and water intake with brittle nails.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods high in vitamins and minerals. A diet that includes fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and lean proteins can help. If you have trouble incorporating a variety of foods in your daily diet, talk to your doctor about a vitamin supplement.
  • Keep your nails neat and trimmed — the longer they are, the more subject to trauma and breakage they can be.
  • Take a biotin supplement. Doctors link this vitamin B form with healthy skin and nails. Biotin supplements are available over-the-counter. Talk to your doctor about the ideal dose to take based on your overall health.
  • Wear protective gloves when using cleaning products or doing the dishes. Thin, cotton gloves with a plastic glove over them can protect the nails and hands against water and harsh chemicals.

Practicing these positive nail habits can not only protect against onychorrhexis, but also further nail damage.

Onychorrhexis isn’t usually cause for concern and may be a side effect of something you can’t prevent — aging. When it’s an underlying symptom of a systemic disorder, treating that disorder and keeping your nails trimmed and moisturized can help prevent further brittleness whenever possible.

If you have continued problems with your nails breaking, talk to your doctor about potential treatments. They may be able to prescribe nail lacquer products that strengthen and protect the nails.